An alleged ‘human trafficking kingpin’ today admitted to killing 39 men, women and children in a truck trailer in Essex.
The Vietnamese nationals suffocated in the container that was transported by ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet on October 23, 2019.
Marius Mihai Dragici, 48, was detained by Romanian police in the city of Bucharest in August. He appeared at the Old Bailey on Wednesday
Marius Mihai Draghici, 49, was detained by Romanian police in the city of Bucharest in August.
Today at the Old Bailey he admitted 39 counts of manslaughter.
He has also been charged with conspiracy to aid illegal immigration.
Truck driver Maurice Robinson found the migrants, two just 15 years old, dead when he picked up the trailer from the port early the next morning.
Robinson, 28, of Craigavon, and his boss Ronan Hughes, 43, of Armagh, had admitted conspiracy to commit human trafficking and 39 counts of manslaughter.
Hughes’ partner in crime Gheorghe Nica, 46, of Basildon, Essex, and Eamonn Harrison, 26, of County Down, who had collected the victims on the continent, were found guilty of the crimes.
At a sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey, Robinson, who also admitted money laundering, was sentenced to 13 years and four months in prison, Hughes was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Nica to 27 years and Harrison to 18 years.
The alleged victims included 31 men and eight women, 10 of whom were teenagers and the youngest was 15-year-old twins.
Justice Sweeney said: “I have no doubt that, as alleged by the prosecution, the conspiracy was a sophisticated, long-running and profitable conspiracy to smuggle primarily Vietnamese migrants across the channel.”
The migrants had desperately tried to escape the caravan and raise the alarm before dying an “unbearably slow death”, the judge said.
Other members of the gang were also jailed at the same hearing for their role in the organized crime operation.
Lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 26, from County Armagh, was jailed for seven years; Valentin Calota, 40, from Birmingham, was given four and a half years; and Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 31, from Essex, was sentenced to three years in prison.
The court had heard the operation was long-term and profitable, with the smugglers earning more than a million pounds in October 2019 alone.
A total of seven smuggling trips were identified between May 2018 and October 23, 2019, although the court heard it was likely more.
Migrants would board trucks at a remote location on the continent to be transported to Britain, where they would be picked up by a fleet of smaller vehicles organized by Nica for transfer to a safe house until payment was received.
The migrants suffocated in the container on the back of this lorry in temperatures of 38.5°C as they crossed the Channel from Belgium to Essex
The fee was between £10,000 and £13,000, for the “VIP route” where the driver was aware of the presence of smuggled migrants in his lorry’s trailer.
Some journeys were thwarted by border officials and residents of Orsett, Essex, who had repeatedly reported the dropping off of migrants to the police.
Yet the smuggling operation was not halted until after the tragic journey.
The families of the victims in Vietnam and Britain spoke at the hearing about their loss and hardship.
Phan Thi Thanh, 41, had sold the family home and left her son with his godmother before embarking on the ill-fated journey.
Her “heartbroken” son said: “I heard about the incident through the mass media so I called Dad in the UK to confirm if Mum was the victim.
“I was very shocked, very sad and I cried a lot.”
Tran Hai Loc and his wife Nguyen Thi Van, both 35, who were found huddled dead, left behind two children aged six and four.
The children’s grandfather, Tran Dinh Thanh, said: “Every day, when they come home from school, they always look at the pictures of their parents on the altar.
“The death of both parents is a great loss for them.”
The UK-based father of 15-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung, Nguyen Huy Tung, learned about his death on social media.
He said: “We were very shocked, trembling, we lost track and awareness of our surroundings.
“My wife often fainted when our son’s name was mentioned.”
– The 39 victims were:
Dinh Dinh Binh, Nguyen Minh Quang, Nguyen Huy Phong, Le Van Ha, Nguyen Van Hiep, Bui Phan Thang, Nguyen Van Hung, Nguyen Huy Hung, Nguyen Tien Dung, Pham Thi Tra My, Tran Khanh Tho, Nguyen Van Nhan, Vo Ngoc Nam, Vo Van Linh, Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, Vo Nhan Du, Tran Hai Loc, Tran Manh Hung, Nguyen Thi Van, Bui Thi Nhung, Hoang Van Tiep, Tran Thi Ngoc, Phan Thi Thanh, Tran Thi Tho, Duong Minh Tuan, Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, Tran Thi Mai Nhung, Le Trong Thanh, Nguyen Ngoc Ha, Hoang Van Hoi, Tran Ngoc Hieu, Cao Tien Dung, Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, Dang Huu Tuyen, Nguyen Dinh Luong, Cao Huy Thanh, Nguyen Trong Thai, Nguyen Tho Tuan and Nguyen Dinh Tu.